Covering Comics #15 – Walt Simonson’s Thor

I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.

This time around we’re going to begin a look at another game-changing run of comics, one which began when Walt Simonson took over the reigns of Marve’s The Mighty Thor.

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Though this run is less well recognized than those of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams on Green Lantern/Green Arrow or that of Frank Miller on Daredevil, it was no less ground breaking at the time, and no less influential even today, when, though most people may not realize it, a lot of the concepts that made up the last Thor movie and will likely do the same for the next one were either introduced or brought to the foreground.

Plus, they’re just one hell of a good read.

Again, much like when Frank Miller was handed the reigns of Daredevil, at the time that Simonson took over Thor -and I should note here that when I say Simonson “took over” Thor, I mean that not only was he the artist on the book but also the writer, so the artistic vision that it took for most of the run was almost completely his – it was a comic that had been in a downward spiral both creatively and sales-wise for quite awhile. Honestly, for those of us who were around at the time and still largely picking up our comics off the spinner racks or even at the local comics shop, it had become one of those easy to ignore, standard, pretty much the same month to month titles. Not that it was terrible, it just wasn’t particularly good either. Here are a couple of examples of preceding covers to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

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Not too bad, in their way, just pretty standard for Marvel at the time. And the stories inside were unfortunately just as standard.

Now at the time (this was 1983) I was a freshman at Western Kentucky University, and the bookstore there stocked a fairly decent comics selection,  and I can remember being there with my comics-reading buddy “J” looking over the new issues, and suddenly, there was this cover screaming out at both of us.

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Hokey smokes! Yeah, not THAT was different. Obviously, with the breaking of the logo, there was something different going on, and who or what was that swinging Thor’s hammer. Yeah, now this was an issue that we needed to check out.

And when we actually opened it up and took a look inside, it was obvious that a change from the standard house style was taking place. Here’s a look at one of those interior pages:

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And here’s the summary for the issue courtesy of the Grand Comics Database: [btw, from here on out, the summaries from the GCD will appear in italics, while my own comments will be in regular type]

Nick Fury asks Thor’s aid in investigating an alien ship heading for earth; Thor arrives and triggers the awakening of an alien protector, Beta Ray Bill; Bill bests Thor and takes up his hammer only to be accidentally summoned to Asgard by Odin who thinks he is summoning Thor.

The issue ended with this splash page/cliffhanger:

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Yeah, obviously we were going to be back for the next issue. And sure enough, when it hit the stands, it was with a cover that shouted “Things have changed!” Not only did it follow through on the breaking of the old logo from the one before with an entirely new one, but there was the old Thor fighting that alien in the Thor get-up, but you have the emphasis on the inscription on Thor’s hammer, suggesting that somehow this horse skull-faced guy was also deemed “worthy” to wield it.

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Again, here’s the GCD synopsis for the issue:

Bill and Thor fight in single combat for the honor of wielding Mjolner and the alien bests the god of thunder.

Yep, you got that right. “Bill” (so dubbed because his real name is unpronounceable by the human – or Asgardian – tongue) beats the original Thor and wins the right to wield the hammer. So where does that leave Odin’s son? Obviously, that’s a question which will have to be answered in the next issue.

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Obviously with Thor 339, more changes were coming, and sure enough…

Odin has the dwarves create a hammer for Bill and sends the alien and his son into space to rescue Bill’s people.

This, of course, leads to an epic fight, which would take place in Thor 340.

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Thor, Sif and Bill save the latter’s people from alien demons; Odin gives Bill a civilian identity when he strikes his hammer on the ground.

That “civilian identity”? Yeah, not exactly human looking, but civilian enough for Bill to fit in with his own people and to not stand out too much should he ever need to return to earth.

Of course, that still left open the question of what to do about the “civilian identity” of the original Thor, a question which would be addressed in the next issue.

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Thor loses the Don Blake identity and gains secret i.d. of Sigurd Jarlson courtesy of Nick Fury (his disguise being, you guessed it, a pair of glasses); Sigurd gets a job as a construction worker but the site is wrecked by Fafnir looking for the god of thunder.

Oh, it should also be noted that Thor no longer has to strike his hammer on the ground to change back and forth. Also, when he is in his Sigurd Jarlson identity, he has his hair pulled back into a pony tail. You also have to admire Fury’s reasoning when it comes to figuring out how to disguise Thor – basically “Hey, it works for that other guy” – a point proven when Sigurd bumps into a certain reporter later in the issue and neither quite recognizes the other.

So, now we have completely transitioned from the previous “same old same old” status quo for Thor, and it’s time to move on. However, for Simonson, “moving on” actually means beginning to explore Thor’s Norse heritage, and bringing in what would eventually become one of the hallmarks of this run: the connection between Thor’s past and his present-day adventures on Midgard. The emphasis on this connection became clear with the very next issue.

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Thor is called to an old viking village in the arctic wastes where an old viking, last of his people, tries to trick the thunder god into killing him so he can enter Valhalla

And that’s a pretty good summary of the issue. Again, though, what makes this issue stand out is that it cements Thor as a god of two worlds, both Asgard and Midgard and what will become one of Simonson’s major themes, the idea that what transpires on one has a definite impact on and connection with the other, mostly because of Thor’s love for both of them.

Oh, and at this point I feel like I should note one other feature of Simonson’s run, and that is the obvious long-term planning that went into his plotting. For instance, from the very beginning of his takeover of the title, there were indications that something mysterious was happening that would have a major impact on Thor and his world(s). Just what this was was kept shrouded in mystery, but there were indications. At first they were just perhaps single panels sprinkled maybe one per issue, or even full pages that would pop up mid story to remind the reader that something was happening involving a mysterious sword, it’s forger, and, well, as this example shows, a sound effect which was also a prophesy:

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Anyway, let’s move on. Issue 343 saw the conclusion of this two-part story and cemented the connection between  Thor’s Norse heritage and his current incarnation:

Eilif is granted strength by Odin so he can assist Thor in fighting Fafnir. (Eilif, btw, is the last Viking that was introduced in the last issue.)

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The next issue, #344, began the next phase of the rehabilitation of the title, as it introduced another of the themes which would be a hallmark of Simonson’s tenure on the book – the re-envisioning of Thor’s supporting Asgardian cast. Actually it may not be fair to say that that phase began here, as it really was something that began as soon as Simonson took over the reigns, but it definitely brought it to the forefront with – as we see reflected in the cover, a focus on Thor’s perhaps most stalwart companion, Balder the Brave.

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Balder is sent by Odin to make the perilous journey to Loki’s realm to ask the god of mischief for aid in combating an ancient evil. Malekith makes it there first and sways Loki to his side. Balder, forced to break his vow of non-violence by a taunting Loki, cuts off the schemer’s head and wanders into the desert to die.

Of course, Balder doesn’t die, nor does Loki – as a mater of fact, he actually seems to make it to the end of the issue more intact than Balder.

Okay, so if you saw the second Thor movie then you will already be familiar with the name Malekith mentioned above. As a matter of fact, much of the material for that film was taken from the next part of Simonson’s run.

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Yes, that is the comics version of the evil elf-lord depicted on the cover of #345, which the GCD summarizes thusly:

Lorelei continues her seduction of Thor. Malekith and the Dark Elves try to capture the Casket of Ancient Winters from its keeper, but the Casket is passed on to his son for protection.

 

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At this point, the Dark Hunt (which is what you see depicted on the cover where Thor is not the hunter, but the hunted) was on.

The Dark Elves try to capture the Casket of Ancient Winters from its new guardian, Roger Willis. Thor helps out. Malekith captures Thor’s true (or at least enchanting) lover, Melodi, and threatens to kill her if the Casket is not given up.

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“Melodi” is actually the Asgardian villainess the Enchantress’s sister Lorelei who has managed to bewitch Thor into loving her. Meanwhile, other forces also have their sights set on Earth:

Thor and Roger invade the realm of Faerie to rescue Thor’s love while keeping the Casket of Ancient Winters out of Malekith’s hands. They don’t quite succeed. Balder has a chat with a Norn. Odin prepares for battle. Surtur prepares to invade earth.

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Yep, Surtur, the mysterious forger of that Doom sword that we saw earlier, is on his way. But first there’s a more immediate threat:

Thor and Roger save Lorelei, but fail to keep Malekith from opening the Casket of Ancient Winters. The Norns convince Balder that life is better than death. Surtur begins his advance.

However, before the actual showdown with Surtur begins, it’s time for a history lesson in issue #349

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Thor returns to New York and reunites with Lorelei, but Roger smells an enchanted rat. Thor later brings Malekith to his father in Asgard and Odin tells all the tale of how he and his brothers faced and defeated Surtur when the world was young.

Now you might think that issue #350 would be a good place to wrap up some of these story lines, but not for Simonson. Nope, he still had a lot more story to tell at this point.

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Odin alone stays to guard his realm as all of Asgard travels to earth to battle Surtur in New York.

Hmmm… Odin standing by himself to defend Asgard? That might not be the best idea at this point, as we see in issue #351:

On Earth, the Asgardians and heroes try to stem the tide of Surtur’s demons. Surtur, meanwhile has made it to Asgard where he shatters the rainbow bridge before taking on Thor.

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Btw, you may note that that description mentions “the Asgardians and the heroes”. This is one of those times when the integration of the Marvel Universe works very well as the story crosses over into concurrent Avengers stories, and even other Marvel titles reflect (at their discretion) the effects of the opening of the Cask, even if it’s only by noting a very odd snowstorm in the summer. This integration is reflected in the cover of Thor #352:

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And, of course, in the story contained therein:

Odin faces off with Surtur in Asgard. The heroes of Earth and Asgard try to figure out how to close the gateway to Surtur’s dimension and stop the ever increasing number of invading demons.

That, of course, brings us to issue #353 and the finale of this epic tale

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With Odin and Thor both down in the battle against Surtur, it’s Loki to the rescue?! The heroes of Earth and Asgard stem the tide of Surtur’s demons. Roger reconstructs the Casket of Ancient Winters, ending the chilly enchantment. Odin and his sons have a final showdown with Surtur.

And just where does that finale leave us? Well let’s just say that there’s an echo of Simonson’s first issue with this final page:

 

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So where does Simonson’s Thor go from here? Aaahhh… that, I think, we’ll save for next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the way, I should note that although I wrote about Mr. Steranko and his art in the past tense above, he is still alive and well, and does still produce a piece of artwork every now and then. I simply used the past tense because that’s when the artwork I was focusing on today was produced.

http://www.comics.org/issue/39014/

 

Covering Comics #15 – Batman, Superman, and World’s Finest Comics

I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going

to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.

Since Batman vs Superman came out this week, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the relationship these characters used to have with each other, specifically the one that developed over the years in the DC Comics title World’s Finest Comics. Though at first the two heroes appeared together on the covers but in separate stories on the inside, as of issue 71, as DC comics got thinner and moved down to 32 pages, the two began appearing in the same stories.

One of the things you’ll probably note is that the characterizations of the two, and especially that of Batman, are very different, much lighter, than what we are used to seeing in today’s comics. Who today could imagine Superman and Batman paying baseball or skiing together, Batman being such an amazingly public figure, and while Superman certainly still fights aliens quite often, they really aren’t much like the ones featured on these covers. Also, we’re back to the type of covers, especially during the later years that were designed to draw in the occasional reader and make them wonder about the story inside.

Okay, that’s enough introduction. Once again, I’m going to get out of the way and let the covers speak for themselves.

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Next time? More of the same, but different.

 

Covering Comics #14 – Artist Spotlight: Neal Adams

I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be an irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.

Back in Covering Comics #11 I took a look at Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ legendary run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, but Neal Adams did far more than just that series, and he was one of the most sought after cover artists at the time. Adam’s style was, as you will see, highly realistic, but he never forgot that he was drawing comics, so there’s also a very stylistic quality to his drawings.

Once again, I’m not going to comment on these covers because I think they speak for themselves. Enjoy!

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I should note that though most of these covers are from the 60s and 70s, Mr Adams is still alive and working infrequently in the comics field, and even has a new mini-series which he is both writing and illustrating coming from DC entitled Superman: Coming of the Supermen and is scheduled to launch next month.

 

Covering Comics #13 – A Jim Steranko Spotlight

I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.

Jim Steranko was born in 1938 in Reading Pennsylvania, the grandson of Ukranian immigrants. He is best known as a comics illustrator, though he is also a writer, historian, magician, publisher and film production illustrator. Steranko is probably best known for his work during the late 60s and early 70s on Marvel’s Nick Fury, Agent of Shield title where he brought a unique and experimental pop art sensibility to both his covers and his interior work that stood out from anything else on the comics racks at the time. As a matter of fact, if you find his covers, many of which are showcased below, fascinating, you should definitely take the time to track down some of his interior work which, though as unique in its way as these covers still managed to showcase an incredible storytelling sense.

And even though, as I noted above, his Shield covers may be his best known work, they were far from all that he did.

Yes, Steranko was truly an innovator in his design, but he never forgot that the main purpose of a cover was to sell a comic, and that the main purpose of the interior artwork was to get the story across. Perhaps that’s why even though his actual output was relatively small, he is still revered as one of the all-time great artists ever to work in the field.

So, without further ado, and without further comment from me, here, in no particular order are some of Jim Steranko’s greatest covers.

 

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By the way, I should note that although I wrote about Mr. Steranko and his art in the past tense above, he is still alive and well, and does still produce a piece of artwork every now and then. I simply used the past tense because that’s when the artwork I was focusing on today was produced.

 

Covering Comics #12 – Marvel’s Other Genres (Part One)

I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.

I’ve said before that I’d like to eventually see Marvel move deeper into their catalog of characters and move beyond simply creating “superhero movies”. We’ve already seen sparks of this with movies such as Guardians of the Galaxy really being more of a space opera and Ant-Man often being described as “a heist movie with superheroes”, but really, Marvel’s catalog of characters and titles is so deep that they could easily branch out even further while still calling on their past publishing history.

So, I thought I’d take this column and take a look at some of the covers that illustrate the varied history of titles that Marvel has published over the years and that they could use as launching pads for movies in other film genres.

For instance, for a long time, Marvel published quite a few Western comics, many of which featured characters that could easily be adapted to the silver screen:

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Or maybe they could make movies based on their varied takes on the classic monsters (personally I’ve always wanted to see a movie based on Werewolf By Night – yeah, in a lot of ways it’s just another werewolf tales, but it had just enough unique twists for Marvel to make this character it’s own – one of the things they’re best at).

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Or perhaps they could take one of thee many horror titles that they’ve run over the years and make anthology movies in the style of the old Amicus portmanteau movies:

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Of course, those are just a few ideas, and I’ll be back next time with more. In the meantime, why not share some of your thoughts on genres other than superheroes you’d like to see Marvel studios tackle? Let me know in the comments.

 

Covering Comics #11 – Denny O’Neil and Neal Adam’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow

I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.

Last time we took a look at Frank Miller’s first run on Daredevil, and I thought this time we’d take a look at another classic run relating to a hero with his own television show.

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I’ve really been enjoying what the CW has done with both The Flash and Arrow. They’ve allowed both shows to have their own tone – Arrow is a much more “down to Earth” show while Flash is in general much more upbeat – but at the same time, they’ve done a really good job at integrating the two shows from time to time so that they can have crossovers such as the one coming up in December without making it feel like a collision of styles. And even though much time on both shows this season has been utilized to either set in place or introduce many of the characters that are going to be in the upcoming winter replacement show Legends of Tomorrow, it’s been carried out in such a way that it doesn’t feel forced, and it has also not slowed the forward momentum of each show’s main story line.

gl0Anyway, this time I thought I’d use this column to take a look at what is probably the most famous run of comics involving Arrow’s protagonist The Green Arrow. One thing that makes this run interesting, though is that it didn’t actually take place in the Green Arrow’s own book. If you take a look at the logo above you may notice that what it actually says is Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow. I noted last time when writing about Frank Miller’s Daredevil run that if it had taken place today, the title very well might have been started over with a new #1 issue signalling the new direction the book was taking. This is even more true with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adam’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow. However, since the prevailing thought at the time was that books with higher numbers sold better because it made casual readers and collectors both feel as though there was a legacy to the characters, and emphasized their longevity. Plus, while this run definitely introduced a change in tone for both of these characters compared to their previous adventures, those changes were built very strongly on what had been previously published and simply built on, rather than ignored, what had come before.

glga2So what was it about these two characters and their integration into one book which made this run a classic? Well, for one thing, while up until this point they had not really clashed in any of their interactions (both had been members of the Justice League of America, so this was far from their first meeting), this run from the very start made it clear that they were coming from different sides of the political spectrum. Green Lantern was actually part of a galactic police force, the Green Lantern Corps, which was charged with upholding both Earthly and galactic law while Green Arrow, while not an anarchist, was definitely seen as much more liberal in his political views and more on the side of the “common man”. And from the very first O’Neil and Adams used these differing viewpoints both as a point of conflict between the two heroes and as a way of motivating the adventures which were to follow.

Another thing that made this run so memorable was that it took both of the heroes out of their usual milieu and sent them on the road together, in order to explore and attempt to discover “the real America”. Of course, this was till a comic book, which meant that there was going to be conflict and wild adventure no matter where they stopped along the way, but the creators attempted to make those adventures more relevant and reflective of the conflicts and situations that were taking place in the real world.

glga4Honestly, this was a tactic which worked quite well at times, and which didn’t at others. The years during which these comics were being published were definitely tumultuous ones for the U.S., and there was certainly a lot of fodder for the creators to draw upon. And though they did, for the most part, do a good job at reflecting what was going on in the country at the time, there were also times when the attempt to constantly make these stories “relevant” went a bit overboard and the result was more than a little ham fisted.

The final drawing point of these issues is quite obvious from the very first cover in the run – appropriate, I suppose, for a column dedicated to comic covers – and that’s the incredibly realistic art of Neal Adams. Though he has often been copied and he has influenced more than a few artists in the years since, there is simply no mistaking Neal Adam’s artwork, especially his character work. There is a look both to Adam’s figures and his layouts that others might have sought to… let’s be generous and say “draw upon” (no pun intended), which makes it stand out no matter what material he is working on even today. In my mind, Adams is among the top tirr of artists, largely because even though his work is quite realistic, at the same time he never forgets that he is working in thee comics medium and therefore doesn’t have to stick to a strict attempt at making his artwork look like photography. but uses the medium to emphasize the emotion and action that is inherent, thus making his art as much a part of the storytelling as O’Neil’s plots and scripts.

glga3This was truly a coming together of writer and artist in a collaborative way that seemed just as natural – and just as effective – as the combining of the two heroes they were writing about.

Unfortunately, like all good things, this run wasn’t one that could go on forever, and memorable though it is, it actually didn’t last all that long. Which may actually be a good thing, since instead of the stories simply running out of steam and either losing its creative spark, or worse turning into self-parody as the creators tried to keep a fading momentum alive, Green Lantern was canceled with issue #89. So we’re actually talking about a series that only ran for thirteen issues. (I’m excluding from the count issue #88, which, while it did have a Neal Adams cover, thus leading me to include it below, was actually an interruption of the ongoing story, something I’ll say a little bit more about when we get to it below,)

glga5Still, this is a run which may be one of the most reprinted in comics history and which has been rightly celebrated as one of the best of all time. Yet since it deals largely with issues that were a part of the political/economic/social landscape of the time, it definitely can come off a seeming date, However, if you really look at it, many of the issues and conflicts that the characters face are ones that are still relevant even today, sad though that may be. They are issues which were never fully settled then, and which may never truly be, making these stories both very much of their time and timeless.

But isn’t that really part of what makes anything – be it a movie, a novel, a television show, or even a run of comics – a true “classic”?

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Okay, from here on out, I’m mostly going to just post the covers with synopses of what happens in each issue taken from the Grand Comics Database. That way you can follow along as the story develops. Of course, that does mean that there will be spoilers, but in a situation like this that’s inevitable. I will add a few notes of my own along the way, and I’ll mark those off through the use of italics.

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Green Arrow shows Green Lantern the plight of the people living in the tenements of slumlord Jubal Slade. But when the Guardians of the Universe observe GL roughing up Slade, they bring him to Oa and reprimand him. Against their orders GL returns to Earth and collects evidence to put Slade away. In response, the Guardians contact Green Lantern, but Green Arrow argues that there are serious problems across America that have escaped the attention of Green Lantern. The Guardians confer, and decide to send a representative to accompany the two heroes as they go on a journey of discovery.

Throughout the rest of these synopses, you’ll see references to the Guardian who accompanies GL and GA on their trip as “the Old-Timer” though he is eventually given a name, I don’t think that actually occurs within this run, since at the time, individualism was discouraged among the Guardian collective.

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Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and the Old-Timer come across the company town of Desolation, where the boss Slapper Soames plans to execute Johnny Walden to silence the songs he sings which have inspired the people of Desolation to think about a better way of life. As Green Lantern joins the townspeople in attacking Soames’ stronghold, the Guardians inform him that since he is on a leave of absence they have reduced the power of his ring. But even weakened, Green Lantern and Green Arrow are able to free Johnny and turn Soames and his men over to the authorities.

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After a group of thugs overpower her and steal her bike, Black Canary is found by mind-controlling cult leader Joshua. When Green Lantern and Green Arrow encounter the thugs later and recognize Canary’s bike, they set off in search of their friend. Though Canary initially refuses to leave the cult, when Joshua orders her to shoot Green Arrow, her mind won’t let her, and she breaks free from Joshua’s control.

At this point, I’d have to go back and look at the actual books to see what their official status was at the time, but the reason for the inclusion of Black Canary at points in this run is that she had been Green Arrow’s long-time on-again-off-again girlfriend/lover.

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Green Lantern and Green Arrow get involved in a dispute over logging rights on Native American land. While GL searches for documentation for the Indians’ claim, GA tries to inspire them with the ghost of their ancestor. Though the heroes are able to prevent all-out conflict between the loggers and the Natives, and the leaders of the loggers are arrested, only time will tell if the Indians’ claim will hold up in a court of law.

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For putting the welfare of Green Lantern ahead of the ecological welfare of the planet Earth, the Guardians of the Universe send Old-Timer, accompanied by Green Lantern and Green Arrow as witnesses, to the planet Gallo to be judged by the Tribune. But when they are all muzzled and the Old-Timer is judged guilty without trial, the heroes realize that something is terribly wrong. They discover that the real Tribune have been replaced by their mechanic and fight to restore the proper process of justice and save the life of the Old-Timer.

The use of muzzles on the heroes during the trial was meant to reflect the real life muzzling of the some of the defendants in the Chicago Eight/Seven trial, especially that of defendant Bobbie Seale who were charged with – among other things – conspiracy and inciting to riot, related to countercultural protests which took place in Chicago, Illinois, during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Yes, this actually happened in an American courtroom.

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Green Lantern and Green Arrow, now joined by Black Canary, travel to Oa and find that Old-Timer has been found guilty by the Tribune. The Guardians strip him of his immortality and sentence him to live out his days on the planet Maltus. The heroes go with him into his exile and discover a planet wildly over-populated due to the efforts of Mother Juna. After they put a stop to her work, the Old-Timer vows to restore balance to Maltus.

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When Green Arrow and Black Canary are confronted by harpies, GA calls Green Lantern for help. GL follows the harpies into a trap laid by The Witch Queen on behalf of her brother Sinestro. Following a lead, GA and BC meet a group of Amazons, who, impressed by Black Canary’s fighting skills, explain how in the distant past they were banished to another plane by a wizard, but have been allowed to return by The Witch Queen to make all men pay. With this information, the duo follows the trail to The Witch Queen and rescue Green Lantern from banishment and the grasp of the legendary Medusa.

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Green Lantern and Green Arrow accompany Dinah as she begins a job at a private school where they are greeted by the cook Grandy, a little girl with psychic powers named Sybil, and the owner Jason Belmore. After Belmore asks the costumed heroes to leave, Dinah is confronted by Grandy, who explains that in Sybil he finally found a way to keep the children of the school in order. Green Lantern and Green Arrow return to the school in time to save Dinah, and when Grandy orders Sybil to attack GL, she refuses and brings down the roof on herself and Grandy.

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While Carol Ferris is in Piper’s Dell, the sea wall protecting the town begins to give way, so Hal responds as Green Lantern. After saving the town, GL is given a tour of the plastic factory. Weakened by gas emitted by the plastic pins produced there, he is unable to fight back, so he sends his ring to Green Arrow. When he revives, he finds that his old enemy Black Hand uses the pins to keep the community under his control. He sends GL and Carol out into the streets to face the wrath of the townspeople, but Green Arrow arrives in time with GL’s ring, and GL traps Black Hand in his own plastic.

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When Oliver is jumped by junkies, he is shocked when one of them shoots him with one of his own arrows. Green Arrow, now teamed with Green Lantern, follows the leads to find the junkies, including the missing Roy Harper, who lets GA assume he has been working undercover. Later, the junkies lead the heroes to an airplane hangar, but help the dealers knock out GL and GA and inject them with drugs. Roy arrives in time to get the messed up duo home. There he tries to explain the attraction of doing drugs, but Green Arrow remains baffled, and is shocked to soon find Roy getting ready to shoot up.

This issue and the next, along with the initial issue of the run are probably the most cited from this run, and though these issues were among the more strained and “preachy” in the run, they were also, even at the time, among the more influential and controversial at the time, as we’ll see further below.

You’ll also note that with this issue there is a rise in both page count and price for this issue. The reason for that is because this and subsequent issues began to contain backup stories that were more in the vein of the Green Lantern stories that had been the staple of the book before O’Neil and Adams took over. In some ways, this really can be taken as an early symbol that DC was perhaps becoming uncomfortable with the direction the book had moved in, and perhaps of flagging sales, as the company began to perhaps attempt to appeal to old-school fans while still maintaining the new audience the new direction had attracted.

As we move along, I’ll include notes on the bacup stories, including the creators involved and the synopses for them as well.

Backup:

Script:John Broome Pencils:Gil Kane Inks:Joe Giella

Sinestro tries to mind control Hal Jordan. Hal’s behavior gets him called before the Green Lantern Corps

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Having discovered that Roy is a junkie, Green Arrow sets out to bring the drug traffickers down. Green Lantern returns to Oliver’s building and finds Roy curled up in the basement. He takes Roy to Dinah’s to straighten out and heads out to find Green Arrow, who has been knocked out by the drug dealers and tossed into the harbor to drown. GA escapes just as GL arrives to take out the goons who threw him into the water. Together the two trace the drugs to pharmaceutical magnate Salomon Hooper and put him out of business. But Roy explains that drugs are not the root problem, just a symptom of it.

Backup:

Script:Robert Kanigher Pencils:Alex Toth Inks:Alex Toth

Green Lantern must stop the Icicle, who is helping a dictator to take over the South American country of Perumbia.

Interestingly, this issue also included a one page typewritten anti-drug message from John V. Lindsay, mayor of New York City (1966-1973), thanking DC Comics for publishing the Green Lantern story in this and the previous issue. I should also note that the repercussions of these issues are still informing the way the character is portrayed today as he is still referred to as an (ex-)addict and still has to often fight his addictive personaltiy.

 

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When Guy Gardner is injured, the Guardians of the Universe instruct Hal Jordan to train another back-up, but John Stewart has different ideas about how to be a Lantern. When an attempt is seemingly made on the life of racist politician Jeremiah Clutcher, John Stewart figures out that the attack was faked and part of a cynical plot to get Clutcher elected president.

This was the first appearance of John Stewart as a Green Lantern, another of the most lasting effects which came from this run. I found it very interesting that since Stewart was the Lantern that was chosen to appear in the Justice League animated series there was actually some consternation and some protests from younger fans who only knew the character from the animated series when the Ryan Reynolds-starring Green Lantern travesty of a movie – seriously, I gave it a try, but found even streaming it on Netflix that I could only make it about 20 minutes in – that the creators of the movie were white-washing the character since he was supposed to be black.

Backup:

Script:Elliot Maggin Pencils:Neal Adams Inks:Dick Giordano

After Green Arrow witnesses the death of a young boy in a riot, he decides that he might be able to do more for his city as its mayor.

Hmm… wonder where the creators of the current season of Arrow might have gotten one of the ideas for the current season?

 

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As noted in the intro, this issue was an interruption of the ongoing story line – note the “Special Surprise Issue” banner at the top of the cover. There could be a number of reasons for this, including giving the creators time to finish work on the main story in the next issue if they had fallen behind, but I suspect that the real reason was that the powers that be at DC had gotten cold feet about the current main story arc, and that issue #89 was simply a chance for Adams and O’Neil to finish a story they already had in the pipeline before the book was cancelled altogether.

Lead Story:

Script:John Broome Pencils:Gil Kane Inks:Joe Giella

Green Lantern travels to Venus to save a blue-skinned caveman-like race from attack by yellow Pterodactyl-like creatures.

Backup One:

Script:? [since Golden Age stories usually didn’t have credits on the actual story pages, it’s often much harder to determine who wrote a story than who did the artwork, and apparently the writer of this one remains unknown to this day] Pencils:Carmine Infantino Inks:Bernard Sachs

GL fights the Tin Soldier, a disgruntled toymaker who has built an army of mechanical toys that steal for him

This Golden Age Green Lantern story was originally intended for Green Lantern (DC, 1941 series) #39 but was never published due to the cancellation of the series with the previous issue.

Backup Two:

The Origin of Green Lantern’s Oath

Script:John Broome Pencils:Gil Kane Inks:Murphy Anderson

Green Lantern tells Pieface the story of his first three cases, on which his oath is based.

 

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Green Arrow goes with Green Lantern and Carol Ferris to the Ferris Aircraft plant in Abraham, which has been the target of ecological prankster Isaac. When Isaac accidentally threatens Carol, GL tries to take him into custody, but GA gases him. Offended at this abuse of the atmosphere, Isaac turns his back on Green Arrow. Ferris security subdues GA and gathers the passed out GL. Finding Isaac has lashed himself to an aircraft engine, Ferris security straps GL and GA to the tail wings of two planes and leaves Isaac where he is to die. GA frees himself, but not in time to save Isaac.

Obviously the Christ imagery on this cover is blatant, and this imagery is carried on throughout the interior story. I suspect, though I don’t really know, that there was a lot of nervousness in the DC offices surrounding it, that possibly being another reason for the fill-in issue before it, and I also would dare say that DC considered this issue to be pretty much the “nail in the coffin” for this run. Still, at least they did go ahead and publish it, something that didn’t happen years later when they were confronted with a very similar issue.

Backup:

Script:John Broome Pencils:Irwin Hase nInks:Irwin Hasen

The cancellation of Clay Chalmers’ program at Station WXYZ leads Alan Scott to believe Chalmers is the new criminal haunting Gotham City, Mr. Paradox, who attempts to defeat Green Lantern by employing illusions based on scientific paradoxes.

————-

And that brings us to the end of the run, but obviously it wasn’t the end for these characters, as they both endure today. And though there have definitely been notable runs since for both of them, these O’Neil/Adams issues feel very much like the kind of “lightning in a bottle” which is always nearly impossible to recapture.

I’m curious what you thought of these last couple of change-of-format columns. I’m still undecided what the focus of the next column will be, so let me know how you feel about them, and also suggest any other comic runs or types of comics/covers that you’d like to see featured going forward  in the comments section below. Any and all feedback, both positive and negative, is appreciated and invited.

 

Covering Comics #10 – Special Frank Miller Daredevil Edition

I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.

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Last time out, I wrote this:

With Jessica Jones coming up from Netflix and Marvel soon – a show I’m personally really looking forward to, btw, especially considering how well they did with Daredevil – I thought it might be a good time to take a look back at some of the covers from that predecessor show. Why not do Jessica Jones covers? Well, because to be honest I just don’t find those covers compelling, and considering that the character is actually a recent retrocon (okay, I’m not sure if that’s a real word or not, but what I mean by it is that she was conceived fairly recently then given a backstory that fit her into the larger Marvel universe proper even though she had never been seen in a comic before), she doesn’t really fit into what I consider to be the purview of this column. Plus, Daredevil has always been a favorite character of mine, so any excuse to go back and revisit some of his earliest stories and the covers that drew me and so many others into his books is welcome.

This time I thought I do something a bit different yet again. Frank Miller is rightfully acclaimed as the person who changed Daredevil and pretty much single-handedly saved the character’s book from cancellation. Now, of course, nothing in comics is really done alone. First off, comics, especially the comics that come from “the big two” – Marvel and DC – are by design collaborative, sometimes moreso than others, depending on the situation of the company at the time. There are times, such as now, when it seems as though the comics being out out by those companies are more editorially driven so that they fit into a specific design that has been drawn up to bring them in lign with corporate plans for the present and future of their respective “universe. At other times in their histories, creators on individual books have been given much more leeway in what they do with the characters and the stories they tell.

ddfmOf course, a lot of this has to do with the status of the book in question at the time. In late 1979, Dardevil was on the verge of cancellation. The book had been reduced to bi-monthly publication which was one of those “the writing’s on the wall” signs. Remeber, this was a time when the distribution system was quite different than it is now. There were no (or at least very few) “comics shops”, and most comics were sold in drug stores, on news stands, and at other places like that. And there was no direct market. Instead, comics were fighting for rack space with each other and with other magazines and everything else for reader’s dollars (or actually, at that time, reader’s 40 cents). At the same time, the companies were less likely to be so qick to cancel books or restart them with new ##1’s than they are now, with the prevailing thought being that for the new/casual reader, a higher issue number indicated the kind of longevity that would appeal to them.

Anyway, it was into this kind of atmosphere that Frank Miller was brought onto Daredevil, first as artist, the as writer. In a lot of ways it was kind of a “Why not? It can’t get any worse.” move on Marvel’s part.

As we all know now, this became a major turning point for the character as Miller added new dimensions to the Scarlet Swashbuckler, brought The Kingpin – formerly one of Spider-Man’s main villains – into DD’s world, introduced new characters such as Electra, Stick, and The Hand, and ushered in a new era not only for Daredevil, but for much of the Marvel Universe which would follow his lead, both for better and for worse. As it turned out, Marvel’s gamble was exceedingly successful.

Just to show what a contrast Miller’s work was with what had previously been published, let’s start with a look at the issue before he came onto the title. Issue #162 was written and drawn by Steve Ditko, and as I think is quite obvious from the cover the legendary Spider-Man co-creator simply wasn’t a good match with the sightless superhero.

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Okay, from here on out, I’m mostly going to just post the covers with synopses of what happens in each issue taken from the Grand Comics Database. That way you can follow along as the story develops. Of course, that does mean that there will be spoilers, but in a situation like this that’s inevitable. I will add a few notes of my own along the way, mostly noting creator changes, and I’ll mark those off through the use of italics.

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Issue #163 was the first to feature a Frank Miller cover and interior pencil art. I should note that while the majority of the inks in this issue were done by Joe Rubenstein, the first two pages were inked bu Klaus Janson who, with the next issue would become the full-time inker and Miller’s artistic collaborator until he eventually took over the full art chores as Miller poured himself more and more into the writing. This story was written by Roger McKenzie with some plot input (mostly the idea of having DD face off against the Hulk) from the incoming artist.

DD tries to help Bruce Banner out and gets himself badly beaten by the Hulk for his trouble. Ben [Urich] hears Heather [Glenn] call DD “Matt” during the battle.

 

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Ben confronts a hospitalized Daredevil with his origin and identity, and DD tells him the whole story.

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Issue #165 was the first to be credited as a Frank Miller plot, though McKenzie is still the credited writer on the book.

Heather finds out that her company is doing business with Doc Ock, and DD has to come to her rescue when she is captured; The Widow realizes her relationship with Matt is through and leaves New York.

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Gladiator holds a group of kids hostage in a museum, and DD has to take him down in time to make it to Foggy’s wedding.

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Issue #167 saw David Michelinie take over the scripting chores for one issue.

DD tries to figure out why the Mauler is after his old boss.

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With issue #168 we see Frank Miller finally credited as writer, and it is immediately apparent that he is going to be taking the book in a different direction, as this is the issue which first introduces Elektra. (Or, as her named is unfortunately misspelled on the cover, Elecktra.)

Matt is after an international criminal being protected by Eric Slaughter when he runs across his college sweetheart turned bounty hunter.

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Bullseye has a tumor in his brain that makes him see every day people as Daredevil, and he starts to kill them all.

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Kingpin, retired in Japan, sends his wife to New York to hire Nelson and Murdock so he can turn states evidence against the East Coast crime bosses. Vanessa is captured by the mob so they can lure Kingpin back to New York so they can kill him. Daredevil gets in the way and has a confrontation with Bullseye.

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As you’ll no doubt note from the blurb on the cover, issue #171 saw the book’s return to monthly status, a sure sign of its increasing sales and of Marvel’s renewed confidence in the title. Also, the issue is of note because it marks the first actual encounter between Daredevil and The Kingpin.

Matt goes undercover and joins the Kingpin’s gang so he can steal the info Fisk has collected on the underworld. Kingpin catches him in the act and beats him senseless. During the Kingpin’s exchange with the men holding his wife, Vanessa is apparently killed.

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Thinking his wife is dead, Kingpin takes control of the mob and hires Bullseye as his assassin. DD comes calling and takes Bullseye down, but leaves the Kingpin in power to rebuild his organization.

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With issue #173, Miller began being credited as providing “breakdowns” for the interior art and Klaus Janson was credited with “finished art”.

A lady killer is roaming the streets and he looks exactly like Melvin Potter; DD tracks down the man responsible for crippling Becky and clears the Gladiator.

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Kingpin secretly hires the Hand to take out Matt Murdock, but Elektra and Gladiator get in the way. When the Hand blows up his law office, DD loses his radar sense due to the blast. 1st hand.

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DD is without his radar sense and teamed-up with Elektra against the Hand and their master assassin, Kirigi. While Matt is off fighting ninja, Foggy is defending the Gladiator in court.

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DD and Elektra hunt down Matt’s old teacher Stick. Turk steals the Mauler uniform to try and take down DD. Elektra has a final confrontation with Kirigi

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Stick helps his old pupil face his demons and regain his radar sense. The Bugle publishes an expose on Kingpin’s candidate for Mayor of New York. Elektra is brought to Kingpin’s attention. FM breakdowns, KJ finished art.

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Foggy hires Power Man and Iron Fist to help protect the stooge who is going to help Nelson and Murdock link Mayoral candidate Cherryh to the Kingpin. Kingpin talks to Elektra about employment opportunities.

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Ben is warned off the Kingpin/Cherryh story by Elektra and Cherryh himself. When Ben and DD continue to dig, Elektra shows up and beats DD, right before she throws a sai through Urich.

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Following the lead on a photo Ben took, DD hunts for the Kingpin’s missing wife in the sewers. Cherryh wins the mayoral election, but in exchange for his wife’s return, Kingpin makes him concede. Kingpin orders Elektra to kill Foggy in retaliation.

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Bullseye breaks out of prison. Elektra hunts down Foggy and is about to kill him until she recognizes him as Matt’s buddy from college. Bullseye fights Elektra and kills her with her own sai. DD goes after Bullseye and ends up dropping him from a great height, breaking every bone in his body.

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Severely distraught with grief, Matt begins to believe that Elektra is really alive and proceeds to dig her up. The Punisher escapes from prison.

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DD and the Punisher hunt down Hogman for selling drugs to kids, but the two heroes clash over their methods. DD ends up shooting the Punisher with his own gun.

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Foggy begins to investigate why Heather’s company is making bombs and this causes him to run up against both Eric Slaughter and the Kingpin. No problem for “Guts” Nelson and his partner Turk. DD is caught in an explosion that messes up his radar sense.

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Matt begins gathering criminal evidence to sink Glenn industries. Turk steals the Stilt Man armor and tries to prove himself to the Kingpin (and fails miserably). DD’s hyper-senses start going wild. Matt pressures Heather into accepting his proposal of marriage.

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DD’s hyper-senses continue to get worse and he seeks out Stick for help. In a fight with the Hand, the Black Widow is poisoned.

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The Widow is dying of poison she got in a fight with the Hand and is desperately trying to find Daredevil to help. Matt is recovering his hyper-senses in an isolation chamber under the watchful eye of Stick and his ninja.

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The Black Widow dies but is resurrected by Stone. DD and company have a free-for-all with the Hand in which Stick gives his life to save Matt. Widow and Foggy break up Heather and Matt. Stone tells DD that the Hand plans on resurrecting Elektra.

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DD, Widow and Stone race to keep the Hand from resurrecting Elektra. Unbeknownst to Daredevil, Stone finishes the job the Hand started and Elektra lives again.

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The infamous “Russian Roulette” issue where DD plays the deadly game with a hospitalized Bullseye.

Okay, so that’s the last issue of Frank Miller’s initial run on Daredevil, a string of issues which would see the very basics of the character changed for an extremely long time, and the repercussions of which are still being felt today. Almost the entirety of Marvel’s first Daredevil movie was based on this run, and if the information that has been released or leaked so far is any indication, the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil will see the introduction of Elektra into the series and probably will once again see a heavy influence on the entire series. Only time will tell on that point, however.

So I’m curious what you thought of this change-of-format column. I’ve got another similar one planned for the not-so-distant future, then after that, well, we’ll just see. Let me know how you feel about it, and also suggest any other comic runs or types that you’d like to see featured in the comments section below. Any and all feedback, both positive and negative, is appreciated and invited.